Advancing smart and safe sentencing reform policies

Michigan sentencing policies have contributed to a rapid increase in the average prison length of stay, which exceeds national norms. At the same time, research shows that lengthening sentences does not deter crime or reduce recidivism.

Safe & Just Michigan promotes proportionate, cost-effective sentencing policies, including the use of alternatives to incarceration. Michigan can safely reduce the minimum sentence length through adjustments to the sentencing guidelines, revisions to the treatment of habitual offenders, and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences.

Michigan’s indeterminate sentencing system

Michigan has a complicated sentencing system in which multiple decision makers determine how long a person remains incarcerated. Each branch of government plays a role:

  • The Legislature sets the maximum sentence for each type of crime.
  • The trial judge sets the minimum sentence a person must serve.
  • The parole board decides when an incarcerated person who has served the minimum sentence will actually be released.

Michigan’s sentencing guidelines

In 1998, the Legislature adopted sentencing guidelines to achieve proportionality, consistency, and public safety. The guidelines were designed to ensure that punishment is proportional to the crime, and that people with similar prior records, who have committed similar offenses, are similarly treated.

Unlike other states, Michigan does not have a Sentencing Commission to monitor how well the sentencing guidelines reach these goals. The Commission that created the sentencing guidelines was disbanded in 2002.

The Legislature often makes ad hoc adjustments to specific criminal penalties and their sentencing guidelines, moving away from the guideline’s original intent.

“Truth in Sentencing” in Michigan

“Truth in Sentencing” legislation, also enacted in 1998, requires individuals sentenced for a crime to serve every day of the judicially imposed minimum term in a secure facility, such as a prison. People who support “Truth in Sentencing” believe it is necessary to ensure public confidence in the justice system by ensuring that an individual sentenced to a particular minimum term does not return to their community sooner than established.

The adoption of “Truth in Sentencing” eliminated the practice of awarding to incarcerated people disciplinary credits that reduce minimum sentences for good behavior, and the practice of putting people in community residential placements, such as halfway houses, to help them transition into the community prior to their parole date.

Safe & Just Michigan supports needed reforms to enact proportionate, cost-effective sentencing policies, including the use of alternatives to incarceration.